What Is Postnasal Drip?

Drainage of Mucus Down the Back of Your Throat

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Postnasal drip is when mucus in your nose drains down the back of your throat. This may happen because your body produces more mucus than it needs or is not able to clear it as quickly as usual.

While mucus itself isn't harmful—it helps protect you from illness and provides lubrication—postnasal drip can cause itchiness or a tickle in your throat, a cough, frequent throat clearing, and hoarseness.

Symptoms of Postnasal Drip
Verywell / Cindy Chung

Postnasal drip may be temporary—for example, clearing up after an infection passes. Or it can be more chronic, as is often the case with allergies or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Treatment may be directed at easing symptoms, as well as treating an underlying condition, if present.

This article explains the symptoms and causes of postnasal drip, as well as how it's diagnosed and treated.

Postnasal Drip Symptoms

The effects of postnasal drip are generally mild, and you can have a combination of symptoms:

These symptoms can fluctuate throughout the day. And you may feel worse after lying down for a while or after speaking for a long time.

Postnasal drip generally lasts for a few days or weeks, depending on the cause. Sometimes, it can be chronic; you may experience it for months on end.

Postnasal drip is not dangerous. However, some activities—like skiing or scuba diving, which requires wearing a mask—can be uncomfortable or make it feel like you can't breathe.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you experience postnasal drip a few times per year, then there is probably nothing to worry about. It rarely requires medical attention and often goes away on its own.

But if you seem to have postnasal drip frequently or for more than a few weeks, you should talk to your healthcare provider about it. This could suggest an infection or other medical issue that requires treatment.

Also see your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:

  • Difficulty swallowing, trouble breathing, or a choking feeling
  • Blood in your nasal secretions (especially if it comes from only one nostril)
  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • Foul-smelling mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Fever, vomiting, or ear pain, which are signs of an infection that requires medical treatment

What Causes Postnasal Drip?

There are a number of different causes of postnasal drip. Some are short-term conditions or sudden triggers, while others are longer-lasting (chronic) issues.

Temporary Conditions

Sudden Triggers

Chronic Conditions

  • GERD, or chronic acid reflux
  • Allergies to mold, dust, or dander
  • Anatomical abnormalities such as a deviated septum or enlarged turbinates
  • Medications such as birth control and drugs to lower blood pressure
  • Rebound congestion due to overuse of pseudoephedrine nasal sprays
  • Swallowing problems

Diagnosis

Postnasal drip is generally diagnosed based on your symptoms and a physical exam. If they are unsure of the diagnosis, they may consider allergy testing, imaging, or other evaluations.

Physical Examination

If you have a fever, your postnasal drip may be caused by an infection. Your provider will look in the back of your throat to see if there is any redness or swelling and ask about other signs of infection (such as headaches, fever, chills, and muscle aches).

If your phlegm is tinged with blood, it could be a sign of a gastrointestinal or pulmonary (lung) infection. This type of condition will require further evaluation.

Allergy Testing

If your postnasal drip symptoms recur every few days or weeks and resolve between episodes, then it could be related to an allergic reaction or sensitivity, such as to food.

Your provider may encourage you to keep a diary of your symptoms, noting what you ate and what you may have been exposed to (such as pollen or pets). Allergy testing may help pinpoint the trigger.

Imaging

If you have postnasal drip frequently, or always, it could be traced to an anatomical cause, such as a deviated septum.

You will need a physical examination and imaging tests to look for any variations that could be causing your symptoms.

Interventional Tests

Interventional tests may be necessary if GERD is a suspected cause.

GERD diagnosis may include tests such as direct laryngoscopy (which uses a scope to examine the upper throat), 24-hour pH probe (which can test for acid reflux), or esophagogastroduodenoscopy (which looks at the lining of your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine).

Treatment

There are several strategies for treating postnasal drip. Prescription medications or surgery may be needed in some cases, but most people can find relief with home remedies and over-the-counter treatments.

Home Remedies

Some tips can make you more comfortable, regardless of the cause:

  • Drink plenty of water to lubricate your throat and keep your mucus thin (and less bothersome).
  • Use a cool mist humidifier at night while you sleep.
  • Try rinsing your nasal passageways with a neti pot.
  • Use a vaporizer or diffuser with essential oils, such as peppermint or eucalyptus.

Over-the-Counter Treatments

Congestion, sore throat, and cough can often be managed with over-the-counter (OTC) therapies including:

Be sure to consult your healthcare provider or pharmacist before using new medications. Avoid using decongestants for more than three days at a time.

Prescription Medications

There are also a number of prescription medications used for the treatment of postnasal drip. For example, treatments for hay fever include some prescription medications.

For persistent postnasal drip, or for postnasal drip complicated by asthma, a healthcare provider may prescribe Atrovent (ipratropium bromide) or a steroid. If you have a bacterial or fungal respiratory infection, you may need antibiotics.

GERD requires treatment with a multi-pronged approach, which includes avoiding fatty and spicy foods, taking acid-reducing medications, and sleeping with your head slightly elevated.

Surgery

It's a big leap from occasional postnasal drip to surgery. But if your symptoms are hard to treat or the cause is anatomical (e.g., the structure of your sinuses), the solution may be a procedure.

Surgeries that may be done include:

Summary

Most people have experienced postnasal drip from time to time and know that it's usually nothing to worry about. The symptoms can be irritating and include an itchy throat, coughing, hoarseness, and water eyes.

Postnasal drip usually goes away on its own. If it doesn't, or the symptoms get worse, it's smart to see a medical professional who can recommend the best treatment for this common-yet-irritating condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is chicken soup good for postnasal drip?

    It may be. In one often-cited study, classic chicken soup lowered the amount of neutrophils (white blood cells) in the upper airways of people with colds, diminishing their symptoms. Experts say any hot liquid will help thin mucus, which can help postnasal drip.

  • How can using a neti pot help relieve postnasal drip?

    Nasal irrigation, whether with a neti pot or another method, helps to rinse away mucus and clean the nasal passages. It is more effective than saline nasal sprays.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Morice AH. Post-nasal drip syndromea symptom to be sniffed at? Pulm Pharmacol Ther. 2004;17(6):343-5. doi:10.1016/j.pupt.2004.09.005

  2. Sylvester DC, Karkos PD, Vaughan C, et al. Chronic cough, reflux, postnasal drip syndrome, and the otolaryngologist. Int J Otolaryngol. 2012;2012:564852. doi:10.1155/2012/564852

  3. Rennard BO, Ertl RF, Gossman GL, et al. Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitroChest. 2000;118(4):1150-1157. doi:10.1378/chest.118.4.1150

  4. Harvard Health. Treatments for post-nasal drip.

  5. UpToDate. Patient education: Nonallergic rhinitis (runny or stuff nose). (Beyond the basics).

Additional Reading

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.